Working remotely

Anand has a sniffle, and I am almost positive that it’s not coronavirus, because that is super-unlikely here in Chicagoland right now, but we’re keeping him home tomorrow just in case, to see if it clears up. I was already wondering whether it would be more responsible to teach remotely, given that I’d just attended a conference in the Bay Area and taken planes back and forth, spending a fair bit of time in two major airports (O’Hare and SFO).

While my campus actually lets us take a sick day if we need to take care of a sick child (I think they had a surprisingly sane policy about that even before we had a union), I’m not going to just cancel classes. Instead, I’m planning to e-mail my students now (I just walked in the door from the Lyft from the airport) and tell them that we’re going to try working remotely tomorrow.

I’m going to take time tomorrow morning to get myself up to speed on Blackboard’s tools for remote instruction. I kind of hate Blackboard, but I guess it’s time to grit my teeth and get it over with. If anyone here can point me to good Blackboard tutorials that are actually up-to-date, I will be grateful forever, because I keep trying to look up Blackboard things online and the tutorials I find are inevitably for earlier versions of the system and are USELESS to me. I feel old and slow and it’s very frustrating, so please explain Blackboard to me as if I’m 80 and have never used a computer before. (And if *I* am going to find this difficult, please extrapolate to all the other faculty, many older than I and / or less tech-savvy, who are going to be in the same boat.)

I’ll also record video lectures for the material we’d have covered in tomorrow’s classes. I think I can also use Gchat (?) to be available to them during class time in case they have questions. Maybe we can Zoom? I’ve never set up a Zoom, though I’ve participated in lots. I don’t know if it can handle a class of 22, though?

Luckily, neither of my classes for tomorrow had anything particularly participatory scheduled for tomorrow, so transitioning to video lecture for one day will be relatively easy. I have no idea how science professors holding lab classes are supposed to do remote learning effectively.

Documenting all this publicly in large part because we are all figuring this out together right now, and if other faculty need support in pushing against unreasonable administrators, well, here’s one NTT English professor at a major state University and how I’m handling it right now.


This is the letter I just sent my students:

Students, I’m seriously concerned by how the coronavirus situation is progressing in the U.S. Right now, there’s no immediate indication that UIC will close, so generally, you’ll be expected to attend classes as usual. However, I’ve just gotten back from my conference, and given that the situation where I was (Bay Area) has worsened notably in just a few days and I’ve just been on two planes and in two busy international airports, I’m going to use tomorrow to get us all up to speed on remote learning.

I’m going to take time tomorrow morning to review Blackboard’s tools for remote instruction. I’ll also record video lectures for the material we’d have otherwise covered in tomorrow’s classes. I’ll need to look into whether I can use Gchat to be available to you during class time in case you have questions. Maybe we can Zoom? More to research. Expect another e-mail from me sometime tomorrow morning with more details for the next few days, and probably some extra writing assignments, but for now, just keep up with your readings and reading journals.

Finally, please do take this seriously. If you are immuno-compromised right now, or have members of your household who are, or have contact with elderly relatives, you may choose not to attend classes on a crowded campus. I can’t speak for other professors at UIC, but for myself, even if I’m back to teaching regularly on Wednesday, I’ll be very happy to work with you to ensure that we can let you continue learning remotely without endangering yourself or your household; just let me know.

Mary Anne


(Photo taken from this EdWeek article from two days ago on how many school districts won’t be ready for remote learning:


I’m not in university administration, but if I were, I would seriously think about cancelling a day of classes this week and having the whole university, faculty & students, do a mandatory training on remote learning. We cancel classes (reluctantly, I admit) for bad snow days, so it’s not as if there’s no precedent.

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